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Honorary Doctorates

Selected eight recipients of honorary doctorates from our faculty

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Born June 4, 1867, Askainen. Died January 27, 1951, Lausanne, Switzerland
Honorary doctorate 1919

Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Born April 26, 1865, Pori. Died March 7, 1931, Stockholm
Honorary doctorate 1923

Otto Manninen
Born August 13, 1872, Kangasniemi. Died April 6, 1950, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1927

Frans Emil Sillanpää
Born September 16, 1888, Hämeenkyrö. Died June 3, 1964, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1936

Ilmari Kianto
Born May 7, 1874, Pulkkila. Died April 28, 1970, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1957

Lennart-Georg Meri
Born March 19, 1929, Tallinn. Died March 14, 2006,Tallinn
Honorary doctorate 1986

Esteri Hellen Vapaa-Jää
Born August 24, 1925, Kärkölä. Died November 22, 2011, Espoo
Honorary doctorate 1994

Mirkka Elina Rekola
Born June 26, 1931, Tampere. Died February 5, 2014, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 2000

Photo: Faculty of Arts
Written by Tero Juutilainen and Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Akseli Gallen-Kallela—Portraits, the Kalevala and Regalia

Akseli Gallen-Kallela is one of the great pioneers of Finnish national art. His most famous work depict stories from the Kalevala, the first example being the painting Aino from 1889. There have been several versions of the painting.

Gallen-Kallela began his studies at the Swedish Normal Lyceum, while also studying at night at the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School, which later became the Academy of Fine Arts. He dropped out of school in 1881 so he could spend his days studying at the Drawing School. He also received private lessons from artists such as Adolf von Becker and Albert Edelfelt.

The nineteen year old Axel Gallén in 1884. Photo from the Gallen-Kallela Museum.

In 1884 Gallen-Kallela went to Paris to study, something that was typical of the time, and by the end of the 1890s he had travelled between Helsinki and Paris several times. His mother and a grant from the state helped cover his study and living expenses in Paris. Unfinished paintings were no hindrance to travel, as the artist could start a painting in Paris and finish it in Finland. He produced cityscapes of Paris and was commissioned to paint several portraits. Portraits by Gallen-Kallela from the late 1880s include those of his future wife, Mary Slöör, and the businessman G.A. Serlachius.

Gallen-Kallela travelled extensively both in Finland and abroad. The purpose was not just to seek inspiration but also to find new painting techniques. In Finland he was particularly drawn to the landscapes of Keuruu and Karelia. When he applied for a passport for his trip to Hungary in 1907, he officially changed his name to Gallen-Kallela (originally Gallén), which he had previously used as a pseudonym.

: Gallen-Kallela returning home from the United States on the deck of the steamer Drottningholm in 1926. Photo by Pehr Sparre, from the Gallen-Kallela Museum.

Gallen-Kallela’s international breakthrough came at the Exposition Universelle 1899 in Paris, when he was tasked to paint Kalevala-themed frescos for the Finnish pavilion. They aroused much interest and admiration. Likewise the music hall of the Old Student House in Helsinki received a national romantic fresco entitled Kullervon sotaanlähtö (‘Kullervo goes to war’) in 1901. Gallen-Kallela completed his final work in 1928, when he repainted all but one of the frescos from the Paris World Exposition on the vaulted central hall of the National Museum of Finland.

Gallen-Kallela skiing at the summit of Kirppuvuori in Suolahti, 1906. Photo from the Gallen-Kallela Museum.

In addition to paintings, Gallen-Kallela also designed medals and regalia. Once Finland became a republic, the university adopted the custom of using a doctoral sword designed by Gallen-Kallela. The decorations of the Order of the White Rose of Finland and the Order of the Liberty Cross also came from his pen. The supreme commander of the White Guards, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, also asked Gallen-Kallela to design a series of uniforms and flags. Collaboration with Mannerheim went on even after the Civil War. Some of the plans can be seen today in the National Museum of Finland.

New early 20th century art movements made the style represented by Gallen-Kallela seem old fashioned. The artist himself wilfully ignored modern art trends. Consequently, Gallen-Kallela became a controversial figure whose reputation was fully restored only several decades after his death.

Despite his controversial status, the quality of Gallen-Kallela’s work was widely recognised. He was first made a professor in 1919, and four years later the Faculty of History and Language Sciences awarded the artist an honorary doctorate.

Akseli and Mary Gallen-Kallela in their garden in Porvoo, 1923. Photo from the Gallen-Kallela Museum.


  • Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Wikipedia article. Accessed August 10, 2015.
  • Klinge, Matti, Vallankumouksesta talvisotaan (‘From the Revolution to the Winter War’) from Klinge, Matti (editor) Helsingin yliopisto 1694–1990. 3. osa Helsingin yliopisto 1917–1990 (‘The University of Helsinki 1640-1990, part three, The University of Helsinki 1917-1990’). Otava, Helsinki 1990.
  • Knapas, Rainer, Uudisrakennukset ja ylioppilasmiljöö (‘Modern Buildings and University Atmosphere’) from Klinge Matti (editor) Helsingin yliopisto 1640–1990. 2. osa Keisarillinen Aleksanterin yliopisto 1808–1917 (‘The University of Helsinki 1640-1990, part 2,The Imperial Alexander University 1808-1917’). Otava, Helsinki 1989.
  • Reitala, Aimo, Gallen-Kallela, Akseli. National Biography of Finland Online Publication. Accessed August 10, 2015. Available for free through the Nelli Portal
Portrait of Akseli Gallen-Kallela dated around 1915. Photo from the Gallen-Kallela Museum.
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